Valerie Lewis lives just a block from the Pacific Beach shoreline, where the waves crash and sunbathers roast. She’s surrounded by moderately-sized homes like her own, an elementary school, a library and the Catamaran Resort.
This community feel is what brought her to the area in the first place, but now she says neighboring short-term vacation rentals are tearing up the close-knit environment she loves.
“When we bought this house five years ago, we were told it was single-residence zoning, which is why we were attracted to it,” Lewis said. “Because of all the other businesses around, it was a unique pocket within Pacific Beach. And a single-family residence means just that, a single-family residence neighborhood… schools, libraries, a neighborhood.”
Under city law, Lewis’ neighborhood is designated for single-family dwellings, but locals, renters and lawmakers all seem to have different interpretations of this definition.
To voice concern against the short-term vacation rentals, San Diego citizens created the organization Save San Diego Neighborhoods. Thomas Coat, a founding member of Save San Diego Neighborhoods, said the municipal code clearly outlaws short-term vacation rentals, but a lack of regulatory resources have allowed them to permeate. Lewis is also a part of this neighborhood coalition that is pressuring the city to enforce the current municipal code.
SLIDESHOW: Save San Diego Neighborhoods Co-Founder Thomas Coat describes the difficulties of living next to a short-term vacation rental.
However, Todd Kirschen, owner of a short-term vacation rental property next to Coat’s home, said what he’s doing is perfectly legal.
“I don’t think there is an opinion of the law,” Kirschen said. “The law says that if you rent your place out and make an income, then you have to report that income and pay taxes on it.”
The tax he is referring to is the Transient Occupancy Tax, or TOT, which the county imposes on owners who rent properties for less than a month, including short-term vacation rentals. For all lodging businesses, this tax is 10.5 percent, according to the City of San Diego website.
Meanwhile, the city is struggling to decide who is right in this argument.
“The municipal code is silent on short-term vacation rentals,” said Ryan Purdy, Smart Growth and Land Use Committee consultant for the city of San Diego.
While the city is in the process of clarifying the zone’s uses, private homeowners and vacation rental companies are continuing to invest in the beachside property.
Short-term vacation rentals are managed in various ways. They might be owned by vacation rental companies or private investors through websites such as AirBnb or VRBO, which are international companies that rent out single rooms, apartments and homes without a minimum or maximum length of stay. These websites work as a contractual middle man between the homeowner and the renter. It is also where the money is exchanged.
As of June 22, there were more than 3,500 Airbnb listings in San Diego County, according to Inside Airbnb. Almost 2,300 of those listings are entire homes or apartments being rented out, meaning the owner is absent. On average, the homes are rented out 155 nights a year.
“We’re giving people an opportunity to experience and explore San Diego and bring money into the community,” Kirschen said. “People that stay in short term rentals from anywhere from three to 10 days will spend significantly more money in the community than someone who lives there.”
Deciphering the code
The Community Planners’ Committee rejected a proposal from council member Lorie Zapf last September that would have allowed short-term vacation rentals to operate in these single-family residential zones under certain restrictions.
Those restrictions included:
- A maximum of two occupants per bedroom plus two occupants may stay in a dwelling unit in Single Family Residential (RS) zones.
- A minimum stay of no fewer than 21 nights in Single Family Residential (RS) zones.
Another part of the proposal, which was drafted by the city staff in August, would expand upon homesharing only and would not require a minimum night stay if only a room, instead of the whole home, is rented out, Purdy said. Bed and breakfasts would fall under this category also.
Instead of passing these proposals, the committee voted 23-4 to uphold the current regulations, recognizing that the municipal code bans short term vacation rentals, but the code needs to increase its enforcement.
“Neighborhoods without neighbors”
Coat coined the phrase “Neighborhoods without neighbors” when his neighboring houses became a revolving door of vacationers, he said.
“That’s not a high quality neighborhood where families live,” Lewis said. “It’s taking away homes from long-term renters or families. That impacts school enrollment, that impacts neighborhood atmospheres and communities.”
One of the Save San Diego Neighborhood’s main complaints is noise, but Kirschen said the requests for police support can be exaggerated and unfounded at times.
“I know there are people on the police department’s low priority response list, we’ll put it that way, because they cry wolf far too often,” he said.
Although Save San Diego Neighborhoods is against short-term vacation rentals, it fully supports home sharing because the owner is still on site and is more aware of the renter’s’ behavior, Coat said.
VIDEO: SDSU journalism senior Quinn Owen has been renting out a room in his Carlsbad condo to help him stay financially stable.
“There are different lifestyles and we chose this lifestyle and now we are going to fight to keep it,” Lewis said. “I’d say there’s a good chance we are going to lose it because we don’t have the lobby or the money. The stories that they are telling is not the story of everyday life here.”
Meanwhile, Amy Hoeschen, a private property manager, only has positive things to say about AirBnb.
“I’ll actually recommend vacationers that we don’t have room for to use the site because a lot of times people want to book for just two days…So if they want to come in for a day or two, AirBnb may be the best option for them,” she said.
Hoeschen even rents out a granny flat connected to her own home through the site.
“I’ve had luck with AirBnb so I have no problem with it, but that’s because I haven’t run into a problem with it,” she said. “I’ve been lucky.”
San Diegans will have ample time to weigh in with their opinions about short-term vacations rentals at the next meeting on Dec. 2. The city council is expected to vote again on the suggestions Zapf has made regarding the municipal code in January.